Farmers will receive post-Brexit subsidies for environmentally friendly practices, says Gove

EU farming subsidies will be replaced by payments for planting woodland as part of government plans to boost wildlife, improve water quality and encourage wildflower meadows.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference on Thursday, the Environment Secretary Michael Gove outlined detail plans for farming after Brexit.

They including a switch from the current system of payments for land owned to using public money to pay for public goods.

Mr Gove said taxpayers' money should be used to boost public access to the countryside, and on technology, skills, infrastructure, and supporting rural communities.

The Government is due to publish its agriculture plans in the spring, outlining how the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy will be replaced after the UK leaves the bloc.

Mr Gove told farmers the EU's policies are "fundamentally flawed" and Brexit will give the UK the opportunity to create its own policies on food and agriculture.

The Common Agricultural Policy, which pays landowners mostly on the basis of the amount of land they have is "unjust, inefficient and drives perverse outcomes", and efforts to "green" the payments have brought very little environmental benefits, Mr Gove said.

It also rewards farmers for sticking to resource-inefficient methods, and pays for an approach to looking after the countryside which is all about "mathematically precise field margins" not healthy landscapes, he added.

Mr Gove said Brexit will enable UK to create its own policies on food and agriculture. Credit: PA

Mr Gove's plans also include building "natural capital" - the value nature provides to society - into land management in order to build a sustainable future for the countryside.

The Environment Secretary confirmed the current payment system, which sees £3 billion a year paid to UK farmers and landowners, will continue until 2024, after which it will be replaced by spending on public goods, with the main area of investment focused on enhancing the environment.

He said: "Building on previous countryside stewardship and agri-environment schemes, we will design a scheme accessible to almost any land owner or manager who wishes to enhance the natural environment by planting woodland, providing new habitats for wildlife, increasing biodiversity, contributing to improved water quality and returning cultivated land to wildflower meadows or other more natural states.

"We will also make additional money available for those who wish to collaborate to secure environmental improvements collectively at landscape scale.

"Enhancing our natural environment is a vital mission for this Government."

Mr Gove’s speech comes as the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology, a cross-party group of MPs and peers, warned trade deals after Brexit could pose the "biggest peacetime threat" to the UK's food security.

The Government must ensure future trade deals protect British farmers by prohibiting imports of food produced with lower welfare or environmental standards, according to the group.

The prospect of deals with countries including the US have raised concerns over lower standard food, such as chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef, entering the UK and making it hard for farmers to compete with the cheaper imports.

And free trade deals could lead to direct foreign investment, which could encourage farmers to adopt more intensive farming systems that move the UK away from sustainable ways of producing food and managing land.

"There are serious concerns that if negotiators don't value farmers enough and build poorly managed trade deals that reflect this - particularly a US-UK deal - it could trigger a race to the bottom in terms of standards and ability of our own farmers to compete,” the group's chairwoman, Labour MP Kerry McCarthy, said.

A Defra spokesman said: "We are committed to securing the best possible trade deal when we leave the EU - one which includes a comprehensive free trade deal with the European Union and, in due course, the chance to negotiate new free trade agreements with other countries."